Saturday, December 11, 2010

CrocLog Podcast - Episode 2

After the modest success of the first CrocLog Podcast, we're here with a second one. Unfortunately it's a little late due to a bout of some nasty virus preventing me from finishing it off. So the references to the two documentaries are a little out of date, although they're still being repeated regularly and you'll find them on the schedules.

I'm joined again by Brandon Sideleau, a wildlife photographer based in California. This time I interview Tom Nichols, a ranger in the crocodile management unit working for the NT Government. Tom talks about his job, and the issue of crocodile safety around a major city, which Brandon and I then discuss at some length. We also catch up on the latest crocodile news, some of it serious and some of it not so serious, discuss the National Geographic documentary Crocodile King, and answer a question that was posted on the discussion page.

Don't forget if you have any questions about the podcast, anything you'd like us to answer in future episodes, or just any general comments about it please let us know in the comments here. You can also join the discussion on the Facebook page.

Stories discussed in the podcast can be found here:
1. Conjoined crocodiles?
2. Mugger attack
3. Steve Backshall attack
4. Croc vs adult elephant
5. Croc vs baby elephant
6. Cat vs alligator

Direct link / Download

iTunes link


Monday, November 15, 2010

CrocLog Podcast - Episode 1

Prepare yourself, because we've just launched the new podcast, CrocLog. You thought it would never happen, or you never imagined that it would, but the ball is rolling.

I'm joined by Brandon Sideleau, a wildlife photographer based in California whose name I cannot pronounce, and we have a good chat about crocodiles, alligators and their toothy ilk. Brandon interviews Florida croc guru Joe Wasilewski, we discuss a couple of recent crocodile attacks, and we talk about some fascinating croc science that highlights the similarities between crocodiles and birds. We even speculate on whether the film-makers in the forthcoming Animal Planet documentary Into the Dragon's Lair get eaten or not.

Come and join us, because frankly nobody else is podcasting about crocodiles. It's our first podcast so go easy on us, but we think you'll like it. We're aiming this at a broad audience, so we'll happily talk science (although we promise to make it listenable), natural history, conservation or anything else interesting. We're also hoping it's going to be fun.

If you have any questions about the podcast, anything you'd like us to answer in future episodes, or just any general comments about it please let us know in the comments here. Alternatively, head over shortly to the official Facebook page (coming real soon now!) where you can join the discussion.

Expect a new podcast every couple of weeks or so, depending on our schedule.

Direct link / Download

iTunes link


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Malcolm Douglas

Of all the characters who work with crocodiles in Australia, Malcolm Douglas was that rare person who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. Long before anyone had heard of the "Crocodile Hunter", Malcolm was out there fighting passionately for the animals and bush he believed in. I only met Malcolm once in Broome at his Crocodile Park but it was a memorable trip. He was one of those people who really understood crocodiles, and his passion for them was obvious. What he didn't know about the bush probably wasn't worth knowing, and his numerous documentaries and series are still captivating.

Malcolm was tragically killed last Wednesday on a dirt road in his new Wilderness Park. But his status as legend is undiminished. Just take a look at this:

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Australia's "monster" crocodile

This photograph has been doing the rounds lately. It purportedly shows a giant 6.5 metre (22 foot) saltwater crocodile that was shot in... well, there's the rub. There seems to be some disagreement about whether it was shot in Queensland, or the Northern Territory, and therefore who owns Australia's largest (dead) crocodile. This disagreement has spilled over into the international media, all of whom love a good story about giant crocodiles.

There's only one problem with all this. That crocodile is certainly not 6.5 metres long. Not even close. If you ask me, it's probably a little over 5 metres long. How do I know this? Well, all the clues are in the photo. First of all, that truck (a Toyota Landcruiser FJ40 series station wagon) is roughly the same length as the crocodile, give or take. It's hard to tell because the back of the crocodile's tail isn't in the shot. So how long is that truck? It's around 4.7 metres. Secondly, the photograph uses all the classic perspective tricks to fool the eye into emphasising the size of the crocodile - low to the ground, wide-angle lens, small child in the foreground, truck in the background (the distance could be several metres, further exaggerating the size of the crocodile). And if that wasn't enough, the crocodile is clearly starting to bloat from decomposition, making it look even larger. So if you add all this up, look at the size of the truck and where the crocodile is positioned in relation to it, considering how much of its tail is missing, it can't be much more than 5 metres long. That's around 17 feet at best. That's certainly a very impressive, very large crocodile, but it's nowhere near the size they're claiming, and it's certainly not the largest croc ever found in Australia.

Whoever wants this crocodile can have it. Not only is it not particularly noteworthy, it's probably a bit on the nose by now judging from the age of the photograph.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Croc Attack

This is what Erin and I had to go through as part of our latest television show which airs this weekend on Discovery Channel. The blue Avatar suits are to protect us from deadly box jellyfish while carrying a saltwater crocodile, which sounds more dangerous on paper than it actually was.

The show is called "Croc Attack" which, amazingly enough, has never actually been used as the title for a TV show about crocodiles before. For some reason which I can't quite put my finger on, it's airing as part of Shark Week. Hey, if you don't tell anyone, I won't either, ok?

It's on at 9pm ET/PT Saturday 7th August, 12am ET/PT Sunday 8th August and 6pm ET/PT Sunday 8th August.

If enough people watch the show, and I hope you all do, we'll get to do more! It's our quest to get a bit more science and interesting stories in crocodile documentaries, which you know is the right way to go. If you're on the fence about it, bear in mind it features Smaug at 1,000 frames per second. He looks great at that frame rate.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Psychic crocodile

Well, if I'm going to get this blog rolling again, why not start with a crazy, cash-in story?! I'm sure most people are aware by now of Paul the "psychic" octopus who has an unbroken record of accurately predicting the matches that Germany won and lost during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Well, Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin has clearly decided to ride the wave of anticipation over Paul's latest prediction that Spain will win the World Cup final by doing their own prediction... with a large saltwater crocodile.

And who did "Harry" the crocodile pick? Well you should click the link and watch the video to see the action as it happened, but let's just say that the animal kingdom's reputation is at stake here!

I'm sure normal programming will be resumed shortly.

(photo courtesy NT News)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Coming out of hibernation

Or rather aestivation, given that it's been the wet season for the last several months. Being the wet season, crocs are at their most active. While this has correlated to this blog being least active, that's because we've been out there chasing them around for various reasons and projects. I'll be talking about some of these in some upcoming blog posts, plus sharing some more thoughts on interesting croc-related matters.

But first, there is the small matter of getting some sleep and recovering!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sad news

Unfortunately I just learned that John Thorbjarnarson died suddenly yesterday morning while in Delhi. John, even before his long association with the Wildlife Conservation Society, has been involved in the Crocodile Specialist Group and in the conservation and research of crocodilians for many years. It's sad news and quite a shock. John possessed a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy and enthusiasm for crocs, involved as he was in so many different conservation projects around the world. He wasn't afraid to speak his mind and put forward the best interests of crocodilians and those working with them. There's no doubt he made a huge impact in croc conservation, and it won't be the same without him.

Sincere condolences to his family.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Managing Freshwater Crocodiles

The NT Government has released its new Draft Management Program for the Freshwater Crocodile which you can now download, read and - if you're so inclined - comment upon (full draft / summary). For those of you overseas, this concerns the Australian Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni), Australia's other crocodile that is frequently overlooked and/or ignored by the general population. However, freshies are extremely cool critters. There's some concern about changes in their population density these days, but frankly I need a whole other blog post just to talk about it. So, don't go too far...

Are Freshwater Crocodiles Going Extinct?

Barely a week into 2010 and already the crazy crocodile stories are starting to appear. This one concerns the possible decline of freshwater crocodiles at the hands of expanding saltwater crocodile populations. The story itself is clearly prompted by the release of the revised management plan which contains a graph showing the apparent decline in freshwater crocodiles detected during surveys of the Daly River.

I'm not sure that I'd be leaping to such conclusions based on the findings of one river system's survey results just yet, especially considering the variability inherent in survey results. There's no information in the report, for example, to assess the impact that changing the survey methodology in 1998 (the first year of the apparent decline) had on the results. It's a good point to bear in mind when assessing croc survey data.

But I digress. Let's say that the decline is real (and I suspect it probably is). The news article implies that this is a real problem for freshwater crocodiles, with one noted expert even suggesting that freshwater crocodiles might be "on the way out". That sounds pretty dramatic! However, I think the point is being missed because there's a very reasonable explanation behind it. When saltwater crocodile populations were protected in 1971 (in the Northern Territory) there were only a few thousand left hiding in backwater swamps and creeks. Early crocodile surveys conducted by Harry Messel from the University of Sydney found that freshwater crocodiles had moved a long way downstream. There were even some freshwater crocs found in estuarine areas. This told us two things: first, that "freshwater" crocodiles are much more tolerant of saline water than their name implies, and secondly that freshwater crocodile populations are largely restricted to upstream areas by saltwater crocodiles. Take those saltwater crocodiles away, and freshies are free to move a lot further downstream.

You can probably see where this is going. Since saltwater crocodiles have recovered in the last few decades, they have progressively reclaimed territory that was formerly "theirs". Freshwater crocodiles have been pushed back into their more usual haunts: upstream freshwater and low escarpment habitat. So it's really not surprising to find that in the last decade, this trend has continued with densities declining in more downstream areas as saltwater crocodile populations mature and their size demographic becomes increasingly biased towards larger adults. Suddenly those Daly River results don't seem so surprising.

In straightforward terms, freshies have had it too good for too long! If there's one thing we know about crocodiles, it's that they are opportunists. We know they're happy to disregard notions of territory if there's plenty of food around, and we know that most species will range into less suitable habitat even if it means not growing so quickly or being able to breed. Being long-lived gives you a bit of flexibility with such things. Species are also frequently sympatric (sharing the same habitat) in areas where there's plenty of food and space. The Daly River is one example, but there are plenty of others where it would be very informative to see if similar trends exist. Unfortunately freshwater crocodiles haven't really been a management priority in the last decade and a lot of these trends have been lost. Perhaps the decline in the Daly River reflects a reduction in available food for both species? It certainly warrants further investigation.

These dynamic interactions between saltwater and freshwater crocodiles make even more sense when you consider recent fossil evidence showing that freshies very likely evolved from salties. Resources and habitat partitioning led to speciation in the ancestors of saltwater crocodiles, and freshwater crocodiles became perhaps better suited to the more extreme habitat conditions where food and nesting resources are less readily available. Populations are very dynamic concepts, and that includes their genetics.

So are freshies really on the way out? They're reverting to a familiar relationship that they've shared with saltwater crocodiles for thousands of years, where healthy saltie populations deny access to most downstream areas. That in itself wouldn't be a worry if other conditions remained as they were. However, since then cane toads have devastated freshwater crocodile populations in many areas. Could the combined onslaught of saltwater crocodiles and cane toads lead to the disappearance of freshwater crocodiles? Some people might think so, but I have more faith in this species' tenacity. They've already proven capable of thriving in some pretty unlikely habitats (dry, seasonally flooded, upstream escarpment) and they've largely survived the cane toad onslaught albeit in reduced numbers. Even now, they are adapting to new circumstances as they have done for millions of years. The question is, can they adapt quickly enough if anything else is thrown at them. What about climate change? What about the most vulnerable and possibly unique "pygmy" populations? Although I doubt we'll be seeing the last of freshwater crocodiles anytime soon, we're not making life easy for them.